In atomic physics and quantum chemistry, the electron configuration is the arrangement of electrons in an atom, molecule, or other physical structure (e.g., a crystal).
Like other elementary particles, the electron is subject to the laws of quantum mechanics, and exhibits both particle-like and wave-like nature.
Formally, the quantum state of a particular electron is defined by its wavefunction, a complex-valued function of space and time.
According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the position of a particular electron is not well defined until an act of measurement causes it to be detected.
The probability that the act of measurement will detect the electron at a particular point in space is proportional to the square of the absolute value of the wavefunction at that point.
Electrons are able to move from one energy level to another by emission or absorption of a quantum of energy, in the form of a photon.
Because of the Pauli exclusion principle, no more than two electrons may exist in a given atomic orbital; therefore an electron may only leap to another orbital if there is a vacancy there.
Knowledge of the electron configuration of different atoms is useful in understanding the structure of the periodic table of elements.
The concept is also useful for describing the chemical bonds that hold atoms together.
In bulk materials this same idea helps explain the peculiar properties of lasers and semiconductors.